Paes and Bhupathi to begin their Olympic campaign Monday

August 10th, 2008 - 8:32 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Roger Federer
By V.Krishnaswamy
Beijing, Aug 10 (IANS) India’s Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi will look to rework their old magic in their quest for the elusive Olympic medal in men’s doubles when they take on talented Gael Monfils and Gilles Simon of France in the opening round at the Olympic Green Tennis Centre here Monday. It has not been an ideal start for Indians at the Beijing Olympics. Despite being seeded, they were handed a tough draw and will have to come up with something special to get into medal contention.

In the women’s doubles, Sania Mirza and Sunitha Rao will be up against Tatiana Golovin and Pauline Parmentier of France Monday.

A day later Sania, still struggling with post surgery pain in her right wrist, opens her singles campaign against Czech Iveta Benesova.

But it is in the men’s doubles, where India’s hopes will ride high on the crack pair of Paes and Bhupathi.

Though the Indians are seeded seventh, the 22-year-old Monfils this season has shown that he is a rising star, having reached the semi-finals of the French Open.

And should the Indians win the first round, they could run into Czech pair, Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek, both very good doubles players. Also in the same second quarter is Swiss pair Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka.

The top quarter has American twins Bob and Mike Bryan as top seeds and Spaniards Rafael Nadal and Tommy Robredo as fourth seeds.

But Paes and Bhupathi’s record speaks for them. Paes has five Olympic appearances, a bronze medal and seven Grand Slam doubles titles. Bhupathi has four Olympic appearances and 10 Grand Slam doubles titles.

If Paes has an Olympic medal, Bhupathi was the first Indian to win a Slam back in 1997.

They came together as a pair 13 years back and their partnership has seen the best and worst of team spirit. The chest bumps of the past have changed to acerbic exchanges through third parties. Once the epitome of on-and-off court understanding, Paes and Bhupathi now come together rarely. And the Beijing Olympics may well be the last such appearance.

Their feats on the court are near legendary but most of their recent appearances together have been preceded by bitter exchanges.

Nine years ago, they together won their first Wimbledon doubles and the same year they reached all four Grand Slam finals. They won three Slams together. But for a better part of last ten years, they have barely seen eye to eye.

They have put behind their differences one last time to win the final frontier.

In singles, Sania has slipped to 60th in world rankings, following her series of early exits in the run-up to Olympics.

On paper, she may have an easy first round opponent in Benesova, ranked 56 in the WTA charts, but the Czech holds a 3-0 record in her three meeting, the latest being in Stockholm last week where the Indian went down in a tough three-setter.

And in case Sania overcomes her jinx against Benesova, she will most likely run into 2000 Olympic champion and Wimbledon title-holder Venus Williams in the second round.

The Hyderabadi will be pairing with India’s No.2 player Sunitha Rao in the doubles.

The two have paired just once in the Fed Cup in Bangkok early this year and were instrumental in downing the Hong Kong pair of Yang Zi-jun and Zhang Ling to ensure that India finish seventh in the eight-team Group I and remain in the same group next year.

Things for Sunitha-Sania will be tough as and if they win the opening round, they are likely to face top seeded Russians Svetlana Kuznetsova and Dinara Safina.

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